Networking is often viewed as something that is done at conferences, trade shows, banquets, and even happy hours – in other words outside of work and the office. You strike up conversations, ask people what they do, get them to talk about themselves, and if all goes well, connect with them on LinkedIn to expand your network. This is the essence of networking. But there’s another form of networking that is often overlooked – networking within your current company.
The goal of networking is to establish and foster a connection with people that may be able to help you, generally at some point in the future but sometimes it can have more immediate benefits. Internal networking promises both. We often get caught up in our usual day-to-day office activities, interacting only with those who we need to in order to complete our projects and assignments. But the company where you work probably has more employees than the ones you interact with on a daily basis.
Obviously these people are valued by your company, perform some important function and have an expertise and perspective that is different from yours. First, any time you meet someone new or get to know a colleague and what they do, your knowledge of the company’s business expands. Knowing more about the company should help you perform your job better. Immediate benefit. Second, whether you might work with them on a project in the future or perhaps want to transfer into their department, knowing them better, having a relationship will facilitate this. Future benefit.
How do you network internally? Well, informally and formally. Spend time in common gathering places. The most common is a lunch area, but lobbies, elevators, hallways, and yes, the watercooler, are common areas too. Strike up a conversation if you’re both getting coffee or simply say hello if you’re passing in the hall but start with something. Each interaction is a piece of developing a relationship. Depending on the size of your company, you might already know everyone, at least slightly. An introduction might rarely be needed since you have probably crossed paths at some point and probably will again soon.
If you work at a large company, spending time in common gathering places will be more important. Celebratory cakes offer more than just a sweet treat – they’re a networking opportunity too, and you can skip the cake if you prefer! At larger companies you may also need a more formal introduction or to actually schedule a short meeting. Finally, don’t overlook more formal opportunities to network internally such as interdepartmental or company meetings. Show up early and stay afterward; take advantage of the chance to meet people from outside your daily realm.
Networking outside of the office is a crucial part of being a successful professional, but networking within your company is important too. It will not only help your career in the long term, it just might help make your job easier in the short run too.